By Jeff Wells, CEO, Metrc
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on America, infecting millions of people, putting most aspects of our daily lives on hold, and yet fast-tracking others. For instance, the cannabis industry has been deemed an “essential business” - a feat that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. To survive in today’s climate, it’s critical to be nimble and fiercely protective of workers who are continuing to work during these unprecedented times. Here’s how cannabis businesses have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With state shutdowns and social distancing orders in place, government agencies have implemented new emergency measures to keep pace. In many medical cannabis markets, states started allowing telehealth appointments for patient applications and renewals. Registrations have since spiked. Some agencies have allowed for online ordering, home delivery, and implemented new safety procedures at dispensaries including eliminating sniff jars and limiting capacity. And some have extended deadlines for license renewals or leveraged technology to do virtual inspections.
While much of the conversation deeming cannabis “recession-proof” has focused on increased sales, new data from Metrc – a provider of cannabis track-and-trace technology – shows that there has been a nationwide rise in cannabis activity, from production to consumption. In the 14 U.S. jurisdictions where Metrc operates, there was an almost 75% increase in system bandwidth usage since October 2019, with a company high of 47 Terabytes of usage in April 2020. Some analysts initially compared this to the toilet paper phenomenon and consumers stocking up on goods at the start of shutdown, but cannabis industry activity has continued to be sustained. Metrc’s system bandwidth usage rose to 72 TB in May, and cannabis licensees across the country are still operating at rates never seen before.
Furthermore, cannabis businesses have had to quickly and safely adjust daily operations to continue supplying patients and consumers in the country’s biggest markets. For instance, ancillary cannabis business, such as seed-to-sale systems didn’t qualify for the essential status granted to other cannabis firms and had to independently seek that designation from state governments. To keep operations running smoothly and safely at our headquarters, we limited the shift size of our essential employees to no more than nine people at a time, increased their pay, and enhanced the cleaning and safety protocols, including providing personal protective equipment. And as Florida began to reopen, we created a database to track daily COVID-19 tests, cases, and deaths in the state to help inform our decision on when more employees could return to the office. With this data, company leadership has a clearer picture of the health risks our Florida employees might face.
Being deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, the cannabis industry has evolved, as it always has. Between increased sales and adapting to new, safer, operational requirements, cannabis businesses up and down the supply chain have forged ahead – in large part thanks to the digital age. Cannabis companies – many already flexible and resilient due to rapidly changing regulations and the recent vaping crisis – have demonstrated that they’re able to operate under increasingly difficult economic conditions while also protecting the safety and well-being of their employees and customers. While the legal future of the country’s cannabis industry is still unsure, new, innovative business practices are paving the way for its inevitable adoption.